A historic win against gerrymandering in North Carolina – but the fight for fair maps is not over

RALEIGH – This past week, the people of North Carolina won a historic victory in the decades-long fight against gerrymandering.

The NC Supreme Court on Friday issued a landmark decision in our case that sets a clear precedent moving forward. For the first time ever, the court’s majority ruled that partisan gerrymandering violates North Carolina’s Constitution. The justices struck down gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts and ordered new maps drawn.

The decision is an especially powerful win for North Carolina’s Black voters, who were most hurt by the legislature’s extreme partisan gerrymandering. And it’s a win for everyone who believes in a healthy democracy.

Some background: every 10 years, North Carolina’s congressional and legislative voting districts are redrawn to account for population changes shown in the latest U.S. census. That’s called redistricting.

But when politicians abuse redistricting and manipulate our voting maps to unfairly cling to their power, that’s gerrymandering. When politicians gerrymander, we the people are deprived of our freedom to choose who represents us.

This past fall, the Republican-controlled legislature engaged in a deeply flawed redistricting process that sorely lacked transparency and ignored public input. GOP legislators brazenly defied legal requirements designed to protect voting rights for Black North Carolinians.

In the end, the Republican legislative majority pushed through extreme gerrymanders that would have caused profound and lasting harm to the people of our state, especially hurting Black communities.

We couldn’t allow our state to suffer for yet another decade under illegal districts. And so we challenged those extreme gerrymanders in court.

The NC Supreme Court found that the gerrymandered districts “are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.” With its ruling, the high court made it absolutely clear that partisan gerrymandering is unlawful in North Carolina.

This momentous ruling is reason to celebrate. But the fight for fair maps is not over.

Now we must ensure that new districts are drawn free from racist or partisan gerrymandering, with complete transparency and robust public input, keeping communities together and protecting the right of all North Carolinians to have a voice in choosing their representatives.

The NC Supreme Court has given the legislature until Feb. 18 to draw new maps that meet constitutional standards. We will continue to be vigilant in every step of the map-drawing process.

Beyond this historic court ruling and the upcoming redraw, we have more work yet to do. Ultimately, our state needs to enact lasting redistricting reform.

For far too long, gerrymandering has afflicted North Carolina, with both major parties guilty of it throughout the years. And for decades, we at Common Cause NC have advocated for an end to the practice.

We’ve worked with Republicans and Democrats to put forward legislation that would take redistricting power out of the hands of politicians and entrust it with an impartial citizens commission to draw voting maps free from gerrymandering.

As a matter of fact, today’s top Republican leaders in the legislature – NC House Speaker Tim Moore and NC Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger – both supported the creation of a citizens redistricting commission when their party was in the minority 12 years ago. We invite Speaker Moore and Sen. Berger to return to the cause of fair redistricting.

Last week’s NC Supreme Court ruling is a crucial gamechanger in our fight for fair maps. Now, we must make sure we have new districts that are free from illegal gerrymandering. And we need to enact lasting redistricting reform that puts North Carolina’s people above party politics.

Bob Phillips is executive director of Common Cause NC, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy.